STARKVILLE — Looking back on his football career, Chuck Tillery believes his broken ankle was a blessing in disguise.
When Tillery suffered the injury in the week of practice prior to Starkville High School”s season-opener against Noxubee County, he didn”t know it would cost him half his senior season and the extra repetitions needed to show scouts more of his talent.
Despite rejuvenating the Yellow Jackets offense when he returned, his lone offer came from Arkansas State.
“Colleges backed off when they couldn”t see me play,” Tillery said.
In a surprise to some, he left the Arkansas State offer on the table because he had his final high school baseball season around the corner.
Now that Starkville”s baseball season is over, Tillery is faced with a decision hundreds of other standout prep players are saddled with: go pro or go to college.
Tillery has offers from North West Florida College and Wallace State (Hanceville, Ala.), but he”s confident in his chances of being selected in the Major League Baseball Draft in June.
On Wednesday, he”ll take the first step in preparing for the draft when he works out for the Florida Marlins in a 15-player workout in Montgomery, Ala.
Tillery has also had conversations with the St. Louis Cardinals, who want the speedster to work out at a larger event in Houston.
The postseason attention he”s garnering makes him look back on his injury-plagued football season with a smile.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Tillery said. “I broke my ankle and it was for a reason and God is showing me I”ve got bigger and better things.”
As for what to expect at Wednesday”s workout, which will feature between 15 and 20 other draft hopefuls, Tillery spoke with current New York Yankees outfielder and Louisville native Marcus Thames and former South Panola pitcher David Renfroe, who is currently in the Boston Red Sox minor league system.
“I talked to (Renfroe) at the football All-Star game in December and he told me I had a good chance of getting drafted,” Tillery said. “He just said ”when you get out there, work hard for 45 minutes and go about your business” Scouts want to see how you react when things aren”t going right. They already know you can play.”
Not a year removed from his ankle injury, Tillery obviously has fielded questions from pro personnel about the status of his ankle. Known as a player who utilizes his speed on the base paths and in centerfield, Tillery said he hasn”t felt an ill-effect following his return to the football field and diamond.
“That”s the second question after grades, but hey know about the injury,” Tillery said. “I say it”s 110 percent now. No problems or nothing. Actually, I”ve grown as an outfielder. I worked hard during the offseason, because last year I”d get to a ball in the gap every now and then. But this year, every ball in the gap I got to. I felt like I could get anything.”
Tillery stole 23 bases in 25 attempts and finished the season with a .408 batting average. He drove in 13 runs and scored a team-high 38 runs.
His stellar play netted an invite to the Mississippi-Florida-Alabama All-Star game on May 22 in Mobile, Ala. Teammate and fellow draft hopeful R.J. Johnson also will play in the game.
Depending on how well his pre-draft workouts go, Tillery is leaving the door open to play collegiately. He hopes to be drafted between the first and 15th round but said being drafted outside of that range wouldn”t necessarily trigger a decision to play college ball.
Baseball is Tillery”s first love and the first sport he ever played. He remembers struggling to make contact as a youth in the Starkville city league and having to work with his father and uncle to improve his skills.
Coupled with those memories are the dreams of playing professionally, which could become reality in a month.
“Getting drafted is a one and only chance,” Tillery said. “I may go to college and get hurt. If I go lower than the 15th round, I”ll sit down and talk to my parents. But going pro is once in a lifetime. I”m willing to take it.”